Two women look at a store window display
Personal Finance

Canadians heading back to the shops this holiday season

CPA Canada’s 2021 Holiday Spending Survey says spending, travel and entertaining plans may be down slightly, but holiday spirit overall is up

Two women look at a store window displayWith lockdowns lifted and vaccination rates up, many Canadians will enjoy shopping in store this holiday season (Getty Images/Kemal Yildirim)

Despite the ongoing pandemic, holiday spirits are on the rise.   

According to the CPA Canada’s 2021 Holiday Spending Survey, Canadians are far more hopeful than they were a year ago, with 45 per cent of respondents saying they’re optimistic about the holidays (compared to 33 per cent last year).   

With that jolly attitude in mind, here are two consumer trends coming out of the annual survey, plus some tips for the year ahead.


While spirits are up, plans to spend big are down. 

According to the survey, Canadians expect to spend slightly less on gifts this year over last—$555 in 2021 compared to $588 in 2020—with more than half (57 per cent) planning to take advantage of sales. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are still the top bargain days to shop. 

Looking at holiday spending overall, 17 per cent of respondents said they expect to spend more due to COVID-19, while 22 per cent plan to spend less. 

In line with the Bank of Canada’s report earlier this year saying some Canadians were saving more, 34 per cent of survey respondents reported finding it easier to save during the pandemic, while 30 per cent found it more difficult. 

“While holiday season is a time of giving, I like to remind people to also think of themselves and their savings,” says CPA Ian Chan, principal, examinations and international assessment with CPA Canada and volunteer with its financial literacy program. 

“For example, we have until March 1 to contribute to RRSPs, so I like to think of the end of the year as a time to assess how much I’ve contributed to my RRSPs and if I should add more.”


With lockdowns lifted and vaccinations rates up, some Canadians are heading back to the stores and shopping malls. 

“There seems to be a preference to ‘get back to normal’ and actually go into the stores and do things in-person. This also supports the groundswell I’ve noticed of people wanting to help local businesses,” says Chan. 

“People I have talked with are feeling more confident that life is returning to normal and are feeling better about spending their money.”

Of those planning to holiday shop, 35 per cent say they will do the majority of their shopping at brick and mortar stores this year, up from 30 per cent who planned to do most of their shopping in person last year.

This still remains down from the 45 per cent in 2019, pre pandemic, with about just over one-quarter of respondents (26 per cent) sticking with mostly online shopping this year, compared to one-third (33 per cent) last year. 

“Whether you decide to shop in person or online, start shopping early to get what you need at the best price,” says Doretta Thompson, CPA Canada’s financial literacy leader. “Supply chain issues coming out of the pandemic may well affect your holiday retail experience.” 


Remember to budget for everything the holidays entail, including travel and entertainment. This year, 38 per cent of survey respondents plan to spend less than $200 on travel (the same as last year), and 48 per cent plan to spend the same on entertaining friends and family over the holidays (similar to last year’s 45 per cent). 

It also helps to plan ahead. According to the survey, 37 per cent of respondents said they have been saving up throughout the year to cover holiday expenses.  Saving ahead is a great approach to the season and, if you weren’t able to do it for 2021, try to put it on the calendar for next year. 

For 27 per cent of respondents paying down debt in 2022 is a high priority. On the flip side, 34 per cent say they don’t anticipate having any debt to pay off at all. No matter which group you fall into, remember that you can always start to make small positive changes immediately.

“Don’t wait until you make your New Year’s resolutions to start improving your finances,” says Thompson. “The sooner Canadians’ get started, the sooner they can experience the benefits of smart financial decisions.”


For more on how Canadians plan to spend their money this holiday season see the full results of CPA Canada’s Holiday Spending Survey.

Plus, read about other e-commerce trends rising out of the pandemic and find out why you should be cautious when using the buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) e-commerce option.